Not many people know this, but I majored in German in college. I have an undying fascination with languages, and learning German - in all its formulaic, technical, hyper-logical, this-word-will-be-as-long-as-it-needs-to-be-danke-schön-und-verdammt glory - taught me that so many formulas, like cooking, are actually just languages in disguise. Or, rather, maybe that most of life is actually just one formula or another, and languages are merely a subset to learn and master.
Maybe this explains a lot about me. [Pushes glasses up.]
It's also possible that being a broke college student in Freiburg, Germany explains where my love of good food formulas started. Freiburg is known as the sunniest city in the country, sits right at the edge of the Black Forest, and is a hub for a lot of beautiful industries: wine, organic farming, and sustainability. So you could be broke in Freiburg and still eat well, including nice local produce, and have money left over for a bus trip to the mountains.
One of my favorite student food formulas was this:
Sturdy brown bread - it was either called Brauernbrot (brewer's bread) or Bauerbrot (farmer's bread) and to this day I'm not sure which was right because both sort of make sense?
+ quark, a German dairy staple made from cultured, soured milk (pronounced "kvark" - say it, it's fun!), similar to labneh or, to a lesser extent, cream cheese
+ finely chopped fresh vegetables but usually sweet red peppers if you were my cool roommate Verena
So it's no surprise that in the last six weeks, interning in a restaurant kitchen, doing a load of freelance cookbook work, traveling to Niagara County to see some of my family, to Michigan to see some of Danny's, and to NYC to teach Jack about pigeons and parks and many, many bagels, I've leaned on these old student standbys. Spending so much time living means we've had next to no time for cooking or shopping, which means we've been dressing up a lot of basics like good greens and fresh bread with, essentially, fancy condiments that keep us fed and from getting too bored.
When I started making my own bread years ago, I also began riffing off of that old formula from Freiburg days - though quark isn't terribly easy to find here, it's not too hard to replicate in texture and tang, if not in exact fat & protein content, using nonfat Greek yogurt and unsalted butter.
This version is cut with a mountain of herbs to keep it light and springy, as well as a few alliums to make it addictive and memorable.
It's excellent on a thick slice of any hearty, seeded bread, toasted or not. Top that with some wilted greens or an egg and you're set for breakfast (or lunch or dinner). This also makes an astonishingly good dip for thick rye crisps or seeded crackers.
Shallot + Herb Yogurt Spread
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup unsalted butter (half a stick or 4 tablespoons), slightly softened but still cool
1 small shallot, finely minced or grated
1 small garlic clove, finely minced or grated
3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, mash together the yogurt and butter with a fork. (You can also do this in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.) The texture doesn't need to be completely even; just smooth enough to where the butter is in smaller, pea-sized pieces. Mash in the shallot and garlic, then fold in the herbs, salt, and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as you like.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow it to set before using. Keeps for a week in a sealed jar.
- baked goods
- beans + legumes
- dinner party
- gluten free
- make ahead
- pregnant food
- roasted stuff
- special occasions
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